Competency: How To Fail At Digital Marketing


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This second post in the series “How To Fail at Digital Marketing” introduces the factor of Competency, and the distinction between perceived and actual competency in digital marketing.

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” – Charles Darwin

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In 1999 David Dunning and Justin Kruger released a study examining student’s perceived performance against their actual performance in a classroom setting over the course of a semester. What they found was unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than actual. “F” and “D” performers frequently believed they were “A” and “B” students, while “C” and “B” performers were fairly accurate in assessing their performance (surprisingly “A” performers believed they were “B” students, underestimating their own competence while overestimating the competence of others, a phenomenon that deserves it’s own discussion). While this seems somewhat intuitive in concept, what was most remarkable was the profundity of the cogitative bias that powered it. The study has since been replicated with physicians, attorneys, executives, and educators, and the results have been consistent – unskilled individuals abound, and their ignorance of their lack of ability fuels their confidence in their own competency.

The summary version that Kruger and Dunning proposed is, for a given skill, incompetent people will…

  • tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  • fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;

What does this have to do with digital marketing? In an industry that is young and constantly evolving, it is almost impossible to use benchmarks common to other industries to determine competence. There is no degree, no certifying boards, or BAR exams to determine a minimal level of ability. The few certification and degree programs available for inbound or digital marketing seem to actually be contra-indicators of the mindset required to succeed (a long-running rule of SEO and online marketing has been “if it’s in a book, its no longer an advantage”), as those who think they know what they are doing take much longer to train than someone with “an empty-cup“.

The key take-away for those responsible for hiring performers lies in the assessment and training of individuals. Hiring based on competence means giving much less weight to self-reported performance and competency (such as resumes and interviews). What may prove more helpful is a practical application or “audition interview” where potentates are required to demonstrate competence. While successful efforts are what everybody likes to talk about, Failure can be a great indicator of knowledge and competency. For example, a question to ask of “social media experts” is “name 4 ways to get a Facebook account suspended with no malicious intent”. Knowing what NOT to do can often be an indicator of maturity and competence in almost any field.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Aaron Douglas
With seven years of website development experience and more than ten years of social psychology training, Aaron's life's work has been to help people and brands become better versions of themselves.


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